Church, I am very happy you have chosen to worship with us today. My prayer is that the Lord will meet us in a special way as we open His Word together. We are in the second week of a new series called “Abide In Me.” In this series, we are looking at the gracious invitation that Jesus gives us to abide in Him in order to experience the full life God wants for us.
We were designed to live in connection with our Creator. The Bible addresses this truth in many different ways, but I believe one of the clearest illustrations given is that of a grapevine.
The Bible offers us some fundamental lessons from inside the vineyard.
Last week, we learned that on grapevines, the branches, leaves and fruit, get everything they need to survive and produce good fruit from the ONE vine that they are attached to. And in John 15, Jesus says He is the vine. He is the source of all that we need in order to produce good fruit with our lives.
He also says we are the branches, and the sole job of a branch is to receive from the vine. So in order for a branch to produce fruit, it must remain attached and connected to the source of life, which is the vine. Apart from Him, we can’t accomplish anything. There’s no power, no nourishment, no life. Abiding in a relationship with Jesus is the only way our lives can produce good fruit, like the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Today, we are diving into another aspect of John 15. But before we do, I first want to read to you Jesus’ entire teaching on the vine and branches.
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
9 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
POINT #1 – GOD IS A GOOD GARDENER
On a small scale, I do some gardening. And each year, I seem to learn something new. I started years ago with a small simple garden, mostly to grow pumpkins for a 4H project. Then for a long time, I didn’t have a vegetable or fruit garden, only plants and flowers, and I grew and learned about those too. Since I’ve been married, we’ve had garden boxes behind our home which have been a perfect place for me to explore and try to grow vegetables and fruit. Not everything turns out like I hope. Some die, some items have stayed on too long and grown tough, some get ate by critters before we have a chance to, and some has turned out great. I’m certainly no professional at gardening, but I’m learning.
And one thing I have learned, in order for any garden, vineyard, or orchard to produce good fruit, it must be cultivated carefully and taken care of by a skilled gardener. Jesus tells us that He is the vine, which provides us the branches, all of the love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and power in order to grow—as long as we stay connected to Him. In the same passage, He also gives us another secret to a full life. He tells us that God is the gardener, and our lives are His field.
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”
The crowd Jesus was speaking to in these verses totally understood the connection Jesus was making. In the Middle East, it was very common for there to be vineyards that would be cultivated carefully in order to produce the best and largest crop of grapes possible. The gardener would be careful to provide everything the vine needed to produce strong branches, and luscious leaves and grapes. All the plants had to do was receive. However, there was something a gardener would do that was incredibly important for the final crop: He would prune the vine.
The gardener would carefully scan each and every plant to determine if the branches were healthy and able to produce the necessary fruit. If there was a branch that was unhealthy or damaged, which would hinder the plant from providing fruit, the gardener would clip it off or prune it because otherwise, the vine would provide much needed resources to that unhealthy branch rather than the healthy branches. The pruning process, though it may look painful, was actually for the overall health of the plant.
Sometimes it is hard to fathom this spiritual truth because we are so far removed from the vineyard industry. Here is a quick video that may help us understand it more. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6kcjKdDRlI
Again, though the pruning process may look painful, it actually is for the overall health of the plant. Jesus invites us to remain in Him, to abide in Him because it ultimately is about our overall health and effectiveness in producing as much good fruit with our lives as possible.
The warning in John 15 is this: unless we stay connected to the vine, we run the danger of being fruitless and pruned from it.
POINT #2 – PRUNING IS ABOUT SPIRITUAL HEALTH
Jesus says there are two reasons for the gardener to prune branches.
One, God prunes branches that are bearing no fruit. We would be very wise to reflect on the areas in our lives that may be causing us to produce no fruit, things that are getting in the way. It might be a relationship we keep that hinders us, a habit or addiction that we indulge in that holds us back, a sinful attitude that keeps us from producing anything good, or a lack of spiritual habits that limits us from moving forward.
These are all areas that God, as a good gardener, may prune in order to make us healthy. A part of abiding is recognizing that God, as a good gardener, looks over our lives to determine areas that may be unhealthy, a waste of energy, or dangerous to us. Then, He prunes them in order that we might produce good fruit. So abiding in Christ is about recognizing these kinds of limitations that God wants to rid us of, so that we can join Him in His spiritual gardening, in developing and producing good fruit.
I encourage you to consider praying for God to reveal areas in your life that need to be removed. Even consider inviting a trusted friend to give honest feedback. Because if you want to produce more fruit in your life, you’ve got to let God get rid of this stuff.
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and (the second reason) he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”
Know this, God will also prune our lives of good things in order for us to embrace even greater things. Let me ask you this, are there places in your life where your energy, affection, time, and attention are going that don’t really matter? Maybe it is a pastime, a recreation activity, binge watching television, surfing social media, or tracking fantasy football. They aren’t necessarily evil or sinful in and of themselves, however, they may be limiting the kind of fruit you could be producing.
Or is there “busy” work that you are doing, like busy church work or other good work that isn’t necessarily what God wants you to be doing or focusing on. Ask yourself, would the Good Gardener want to prune them from your life in order to make you even more healthy and productive?
Abiding in Christ will help you recognize what God desires for you. And I know personally this process can be painful. It’s difficult to give up things we have grown accustomed to relying on. However, God longs for us to rely solely on Jesus as the vine and to abide in Him. God longs for us to show up and abide in Him. Out of the pain comes growth, and out of the pruning comes freedom.
POINT #3 – PRUNING IS AN ACT OF LOVE
Often, our first response to God’s pruning process is frustration, anger, or even sadness. Many people think that God does this in their lives because He hates them or wants to punish them. However, the book of Hebrews can quickly change our perspective on hard times and the pruning of things we hold so dear.
7 As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? 8 If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate (unlawful or dishonest) and are not really his children at all. 9 Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?
10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
The author of Hebrews offers very helpful imagery here: The discipline and pruning of God is like a father who loves his children. Any good father will discipline his children, not because he hates them, but because he loves them. Any good father wants what is best for his children and will say “no” or take things away in order for them to live healthy, happy lives.
Pruning is a result of the love of God for each and every one of us. It is out of love that God removes things from our lives that are hindering us or holding us back, because He longs for us to share in His holiness and experience righteousness and peace. So instead of being angry with God’s boundaries, and limitations, and pruning, know that He does this for all of those that He loves.
How many of us have taken something from your child that was dangerous or could have harmed them, only to have them kick and scream and get mad at you. You certainly didn’t get a thank you for saving their life, but you did it out of love and would gladly do it again.
Far too many of us ignorantly grasp for things that only harm or limit our potential, while God longs to free us from them out of His gracious love. Though it may be painful, it may be what sparks or encourages your spiritual growth.
A good gardener knows when it is time to prune parts of a crop in order to produce a better yield. God knows the areas of our lives that need to be pruned in order to reveal the best versions of ourselves. Sometimes it is something sinful that must be pruned because it is hindering our growth. Other times it may be something good that is getting in the way. But abiding in Christ means embracing the correction that comes from God in order to produce a great spiritual harvest.
So don’t be afraid to identify the areas of your life that God wants to prune. And then, obediently respond to His discipline.
To Establish or Reestablish a Connection:
- Recognize your dependence upon Christ. / Recognize what needs to be pruned.
- Repent and commit to living in obedience. / Repent and obediently respond.
- Repeat daily.
Because abiding in Christ is about receiving from the vine as well as the refining of the Father.